GCC track and field runners

Glendale Community College runners on the track and field team stretch before a practice at the college in Glendale on Monday, February 10, 2014. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / February 14, 2014)

GLENDALE — When asked his expectations for the 2014 men’s and women’s track and field season, Eddie Lopez, Glendale Community College’s 27-year coach, paused ever so briefly before racing to give an answer.

“We’re trying to get a trophy,” Lopez said. “Over the years, we’ve been close, especially with the women’s side at state. We’ve been fifth or sixth, maybe fourth, but we’ve not been higher, we’ve just missed a top-three finish. So, that’s our goal this year.”

In terms of numbers, the Vaqueros women’s team is on the smaller side with about 22 athletes before Friday’s season-opening meet at Bakersfield College.

The Vaqueros also suffered a big loss in the graduation of all-everything distance runner Grace Zamudio, who’s currently at Loyola Marymount.

Zamudio was the first person in California Community College Athletic Assn. history to win the distance trifecta, which is to capture state titles in the 10,000-meter race (37 minutes, 22.19 seconds), the 5,000 (17:41.04) and the 1,500 (4:36.13) at the state finals at College of San Mateo on May 17 and 18.

Overall, Zamudio tallied 30 of her team’s 41 points as Glendale finished sixth in state.

In taking their first step toward a trophy, not only does Lopez and crew have to find a replacement or replacements for Zamudio’s scoring, but the squad also needs to take back the Western State Conference crown.

Last season, Glendale tied with Ventura for second with 111 points, behind champion West Los Angeles (167 points) at the conference finals at Moorpark College on April 26.

“The conference title is probably going to come down to West Los Angeles and us,” Lopez said. “We’re strong in the distance and weights, but aren’t that strong in the sprints or jumps. I just don’t know if we have enough numbers for conference.”

Perhaps Lopez is highest on sophomore runners Lizette Gonzalez and Lizzy Nelson.

Gonzalez sprained her foot midway through last season and missed the postseason entirely, a setback that she’s used to propel her forward into 2014.

“It’s definitely motivation, especially since I haven’t had a healthy season since I started running,” said Gonzalez, a team co-captain. “This is a unique team because we have a lot talent, especially the freshmen. We also have solid sophomores and we have a chance at breaking school records.”

Gonzalez is penciled into running the 1,600-meter relay along with the 800 and 1,500, with goals set at 2:12 and 4:30, respectively, for the last two events.

Joining Gonzalez in both the distance events and as a leg on the 4x400 squad is Nelson, who finished third at the cross-country state finals on Nov. 23.

Nelson owns a personal-best time of 4:41.91 in the 1,500, one of four events she expected to compete in along with the 800, 10,000 and the 4x400.

Two more women to keep on eye out for are freshmen Glindyll Mancia and Narges Motamedi, both of whom are expected to challenge in the 800.

Motamedi is tabbed to compete with Nandi Watson as the other two competitors on the 1,600 relay squad

Outside of the distances and relays, Lopez is hoping for a big season from sophomore Justice Shank, a Southern California high jump champion two years ago, along with freshman Aisiah Tuiasospo in the shot put, discus and hammer, Anafusi Tonga and Nikki Pappelis in the javelin and Kelly Castillo and Teresa Villafuerte in the steeplechase.

On the men’s side, the Vaqueros actually return as the defending conference champions, having dispatched of West Los Angeles, 158.3-151 at the conference finals.

One of the interesting returners is sophomore Quaid Vuncannon, originally of Mesa, Ariz.

Vuncannon in his second year ever of doing the decathlon and is hoping to break his personal-best mark of 5,362 points.

“I know that point total doesn’t sound all that impressive, but I’m still relatively new to this,” Vuncannon said. “My goal is to go over 7,000 points this year and break the school record. I really think I can do it.”

As of Monday, the total size of the men’s program was 40, although Lopez said more help could be on the way in the form of football players.

“My roster still isn’t set because I’m holding out for a few more guys from football,” Lopez said. “We can be a really deep team if they end up coming out.”

Like the women’s squad, the men are also strong in the distance with cross-country specialists such as sophomore co-captain Edwardo Vasquez, who ran a 3:58 in the 1,500 at the team’s intrasquad meet last week.

Vasquez is expected to run the 1,500 and 800.

Lopez also has a strong group of athletes in the weights that includes David Renteria in the javelin, and football standout Tanner Mays, who’s also in the javelin, along with Chris Uribe in the shot, discus and hammer.

Lopez has a pair of experienced runners in the steeplechase this year in sophomore Jorge Mendoza and Hoover High alumnus Daniel Marin.

Other athletes to watch for are Marcus Streeter in the high jump, springs and long jump and Alejandro Chavez in the 1,500.